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Exhibition Highlights

This section presents a few of the photographs and related artifacts that appear on display in Cornell University's Carl A. Kroch Library beginning October 20, 2011. To download a full-sized TIFF file of any of the following images, click on the thumbnail. Alternatively, you may right-click on the thumbnail and select, "Save Link As..."

Anonymous. J. C. Gardner and His Brother, c. 1870s.
Albumen print, 3 ½ x 2 ¼ in.

J. C. Gardner and his brother, shown here with their 8 x 10 in. sliding-box camera, were two of nearly 8000 photographers in America by 1870. Most of these pioneers are now-forgotten, but as a group, they were enormously influential as the first generation of photographers to capture images of their world and, in the process, reshape the world they reflected.

Unidentified. Abraham Lincoln, Inscribed by Lincoln to Fanny Speed, March 1 to June 30, 1861.
Salted paper print, 11 ½ x 9 ½ in.

This is likely the first image to capture Abraham Lincoln in his role as President. The rare, large format portrait is warmly inscribed to Fanny, the wife of Joshua Speed, Lincoln’s oldest and closest friend: “To my good friend, Mrs. Fanny Speed A. Lincoln.” The President almost certainly gave the portrait to Fanny when the Speeds dined at the White House on Thanksgiving Day, 28 November 1861. This extraordinary memento of Lincoln’s personal life documents one of his longest and most important friendships.

On loan from the Stephan and Beth Loewentheil Family Photographic Collection.

Talbot’s First Photographic Publication
William Henry Fox Talbot. Some Account of the Art of Photogenic Drawing or the Process by Which Natural Objects May be Made to Delineate Themselves Without the Aid of the Artist’s Pencil. London: R. and J. E. Taylor, 1839.

John Moffat. William Henry Fox Talbot, 1864. Albumen print, carte de visite mount

Talbot (1800-1877) was the first of the early experimenters in photography to propose, in this paper, a fundamental principle of modern photography: the use of a negative image to produce an unlimited number of positive copies. That same year, Daguerre announced the daguerreotype photographic process. Rushed into print in response to Daguerre’s announcement, Talbot’s publication was premature. His “photogenic drawings” faded and were much inferior to daguerreotype images. Two years later, however, in 1841, Talbot announced the invention of the calotype, a marked improvement on the process.

Unidentified. Display of Photographic Studio Equipment, ca. 1865.
Hand-colored tintype, quarter plate

Portrait photographs in the 1850s and 1860s required subjects to sit motionless for exposures often lasting twenty to sixty seconds. To aid in this formidable task, head clamps and sit-still apparatus, as depicted in this tintype, were common to early photographic studios. “The public dreaded going to the gallery almost as much as to the dentist.” One observer wrote, “Glare, bareness, screens, iron instruments of torture, and a smell as of a drug and chemical … a photographer’s operating room is always something between a barn, a green-room, and a laboratory.”

Unidentified. Child Holding an Apple, ca. 1860.
Hand-colored ambrotype, ninth plate

Exposure time was a formidable challenge for the 19th century photographer who surely shuddered when a young sitter entered the room. Noted historian Robert Taft wrote, “Ah, the children. Here there could be no twenty second exposure… full light, the largest stop in the camera and the combined efforts of the photographer, the candy, and the entire family.”

Holmes, Booth & Haydens. African-American Woman with Two White Children, 1860s.
Hand-colored ambrotype, 1/4 plate and hand-colored salted paper print, 9 x 7 in.

This photograph of a white child and a slave nanny is a reminder of the complexities of interracial relationships during the era of slavery in America. The portrait was of sufficient importance to its owner to merit production of duplicates. The first image is an ambrotype, a one-of-a-kind positive image. The second is a salt print duplicate made from a photograph of the original ambrotype resulting in a copy negative. The use of hand-coloring allows the photographer to restore detail lost in the reproduction and enlarging process.

Brady’s Gallery (attributed to). Clara Barton with Civil War Soldiers, 1861-1865.
Albumen print, 5 1/4 x 7 7/8 in.

Known as the “Angel of the Battlefield,” Clara Barton (1821-1912) was a leading figure in the distribution of medical supplies, food, and clothing to wounded soldiers. She was present at a number of the war’s grimmest battlefields. After the war she founded the American Red Cross and became a key figure in the woman’s suffrage and civil rights movements.

Unidentified. Civil War Soldier, 1861-1865.
Hand-colored tintype, full plate

This tintype portrait has a hand-painted background, seemingly transforming the portrait from a studio to a battlefield setting. Inexpensive, durable, and easily mailed home, tintypes were immensely popular with soldiers and their families.

Alfred Brisbois. William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, late 1880s.
Albumen print, cabinet card mount

The widespread availability of photographic images of heroes such as William F. Cody, the celebrated American scout and showman, was central to the creation of the mythology of the American West. Photographs of famous individuals from many fields of endeavor helped to produce a vibrant celebrity culture in the United States.

Carleton E. Watkins. “Clearing The Channel,” ca. 1882.
Albumen print, 7 ¾ x 4 ¾ in.

This is a photograph documenting the clearing of the channel of the Cascades of the Columbia River in Oregon by dynamite explosion. The image demonstrates the new possibilities brought by the gelatin dry-plate glass negative. Conveniently manufactured by a third party, the gelatin negative allowed for a sufficiently fast exposure time to capture exploded rock fragments in mid-flight.